The Magic of the Very Large Array

VLA dish

VLA dish in the setting sun

Approaching from the East, just as one crosses over the last mountain, there is a moment when the mighty San Augustin Plains unfold and the dishes of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array are revealed like sentinels in the distance. I have experienced this moment around 10 times, and it never fails to provoke goosebumps. I am filled with a sense of wonder and awe and I feel more connected to the universe than ever.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I want to travel the universe in a spaceship, explore the stars and encounter life on other planets. I gaze at the night sky, I feel a sense of longing, like I belong out there. Decades on, I still gaze at the sky, at times with a tear in the corner of my eye knowing that I will most likely never get to visit space. VLA is a special place, connecting me to the universe like no other, many an afternoon and night have I sat peacefully watching the dishes occasionally rotate, day turn to night and a million stars light up.

In 2012 on the first Mad and Magic Raving tour with Charlene, via connection made through a dancing cowboy (!) at the pie festival in Pie Town, we were fortunate to get a private tour of the VLA by Gene Cole. Gene spent a good two hours taking us through the entire site, the control room, and the highlight – going inside and standing on a dish! We jumped around and giggled like the two astronomy and scifi geeks we are, on the ultimate private tour of VLA during the entire tour, much to Gene’s amusement.

This year, I spent the evening of my birthday gazing at the stars at VLA with Charlene. On a cold April night in the high desert, stars twinkling through a thin cloud cover, the connection to the universe was as strong as ever. No one here but us, nothing to break the peaceful solitude and magic of this place. Two time travelers finding peace in a few hours of frozen time. The magic of VLA.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
– Carl Sagan



The wide open plain

The wide open San Augustin plain

Cool view from the office

Cool view from the office

We are in a dish! Charlene with Gene Cole.

We are in a dish! Charlene with Gene Cole.


Charlene not leaving the warmth of the car on a cold sunset

Watching the stars on my birthday.

Watching the stars on my birthday. Image by Charlene Winfred.

PS. I own no less than 5 VLA t-shirts. And a lanyard. And have VLA stickers on my laptop. Biggest VLA geek ever? Possibly!

7 Comments on “The Magic of the Very Large Array”

    1. Thanks Mark, so glad you like the stories. Cameras are passports, they get taken everywhere, sometimes they get you in, sometimes they keep you out, often they get dropped and scratched 🙂

  1. Love, love, love the wide open spaces. Somehow makes the universe seem endlessly expansive (and somehow makes the interior spaces feel the same).

  2. The VLA and surrounding plain are an awesome place to photograph. Trouble is that I never get a chance to stay long enough to get all the images I’d like. Maybe next time.

    A couple of shots from 2012.
    VLA 1
    VLA 2

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